, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 281-286,
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Date: 20 Jun 2008

A Look at Linguistic Evolution

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Anyone who has ever tackled a Shakespeare play knows that English has changed substantially in the 400 years since Elizabeth I ruled England. In fact, Elizabethan English can seem like a completely different language from the one we speak today. Just try describing your mood with the Shakespearean terms allicholly and tetchy—you are more likely to get confused looks than sympathy for being unhappy and irritable. Four hundred years from now, English speakers will likely feel the same way about the language we speak today. Unless you are keeping up with the latest additions to the Oxford English Dictionary, you might already be behind the times: Do you know if you would be eligible to participate in a girlcott? Or whether you would want a job as a helmer? Or when it would be appropriate to wear a jandal?

It is clear that languages change. In an article in this issue, Venditti and Pagel (2008) take that notion one step further. They explain that languages do not simply change over time, bu ...